Heroes in March Then Cowards in November. Actually, I Am Neither.

The year 2020 is all but guaranteed to reside in the mind and memories of the public school educators well after their careers in teaching are over.

At least parts of two school years will involve a virtual component or highly stressful in-person situation within a pandemic that is not anywhere under control and an election year that has already politicized school reopenings.

The goal of schooling is learning, but ironically while many are bemoaning that too many schools are “closed” we are really seeing how this six-month stark alteration of life is teaching one of the most most powerful lessons any “student” could learn.

And that lesson is that too many people in society who offer loud opinions and are capable of affecting conditions really do not understand the complexity of public schools and the obstacles that public schools and its educators face on a daily basis.

It’s not so odd then to see how in March teachers were heroes in the eyes of so many. Now, many are cowards in those same eyes.

In March, the state quickly shut down school buildings in the state due to a few known cases of a virus. That alone probably saved lives and staved off transmission. Then we had to enter the world of remote instruction literally overnight. No real preparation for it; no professional development.

Literally overnight.

In March and April, teachers and school leaders were being hailed as “heroes.” November, many of those same people have become “obstacles” to those who want to fully reopen school buildings.

This is just from today on CNN.com:

Heroes in March. Cowards in November.

In March and April, closing school buildings became a way to allow the federal government to take quick action to help control the spread of a virus. In August, the federal government wanted schools to open to cover up its dismal response to COVID-19.

This is the most recent tally from Johns Hopkins:

But here in North Carolina, we get this:

In March, we needed protecting. Now, we are ignorant.

Heroes in March. Cowards in November.

Why that change of heart? Fear, ignorance, electioneering, profit, desperation? A combination of some or all?

What these past eight months have clearly showed us is that too many in our society do not truly understand that schools are more than just buildings and that our public school system is a common good that should be invested in and more respected.

And as the desks are being moved around in my building to accommodate social distancing, I still have barely received any PPE, masks, hand sanitizer, or cleaning supplies.

THERE HAS NOT EVEN BEEN ANY TALK OF GIVING TEACHERS ANY ACCESS TO COVID-19 TESTING. But those great immune systems. Right?

Heroes in March. Cowards in November.

Until people realize that:

  • teachers and administrators are human,
  • teaching is an art – not a science,
  • school is more than academics,
  • teaching is physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing,
  • there has to be investment in educational infrastructure,
  • the school / society relationship is more fluid than many realize, and that
  • public education really is political,

Then this idea that teachers were heroes in March but cowards now will continue to spread.

There are teachers in this state who literally are teaching both in-person students and still required to provide synchronous instruction to those students whose families have elected to begin this school year remotely. That could mean teaching one class section as if it were two. But there were no new hours in the day created.

Heroes in March. Cowards in November.

There are teachers in this state who had to learn new online platforms and try to master new resources during the summer without synchronous professional development and at their own expense and on their own time.

Heroes in March. Cowards in November.

There are school systems that have stipulated different parameters for grading and student work and expectations that differ greatly from what would happen in a typical school year which require more work and time to maintain.

Heroes in March. Cowards in November.

And for most every teacher in a school operating under hybrid or remote learning schedules, the expectations of classroom management have been morphed to include aspects that are simply out of the control of any teacher.

Heroes in March. Cowards in November.

Add to that the fact that communication with students and parents have more obstacles attached with remote learning as this pandemic has exacerbated the connectivity divide in this state not to mention the economic woes that many face.

Heroes in March. Cowards in November.

Teachers have been on task so much since last March that today feels like March 264th rather than November 23rd.

Heroes in March. Cowards in November.

I was doing my job the best I could for my students in March. And in April, And May. And June. And July, And August. And September. And October. And November. Still am today.

I wasn’t a hero for that. I was being a teacher.

But, I sure as hell am not a coward now for still being a teacher. Especially when I am measured by this:

Which includes this:

Dear Mark Johnson: Do At Least One Good Thing Before You Go

Mark Johnson has well over a month still in his term and while we could spend entire days discussing the magnitude of how poorly he did his elected duty, he can end his tumultuous term by doing one good thing for our schools and students: act to negate the use of federal and state mandated standardized tests for this semester.

No matter what Betsy DeVos might say as her even more embarrassing tenure as Secretary of Education, she is gone in January. Applying for a federal waiver now and receiving a “NO” from her office does not mean that having a waiver request on file would not have sway with the next Secretary of Education whose agenda is surely to try and undo many of DeVos’s policies immediately.

DeVos’s “NO” can be overturned.

Johnson could make a public stand by saying that NC will not give standardized tests in December and January despite what the feds may say. That public statement would at least be in line with his “local control” of education mantra that he has being trying to scream for years now.

Or Johnson could decree that any standardized test given this semester can only count 0.01% of a final grade and 0.0001% of a school’s performance grade.

He could even sign this petition by NC Families For School Testing Reform:

About The Doctor’s Opinion: Using Science Without Leadership Is Our Biggest Concern

I am no medical expert. I am no scientist. I do not know the responsibility, stress, and burden that medical professionals are really carrying with them right now as the country begins to experience this recent surge of a new virus.

I can’t even imagine what the past 8 months have been like for hospitals.

What I am is a public school teacher and an advocate for public schools.

Admittedly, I was a little taken aback when I initially read the words spoken by Dr. Christopher Ohl in today’s report on his comments about school reopenings.

I felt that someone who was at a Wake Forest Baptist presser on behalf of the hospital and medical school should not have inserted an admittedly personal opinion in that arena. I felt that his words did more to polarize the situation than it did in offering clarity and guidance.

It’s also hard not to read these words as a teacher who wants schools to open safely and feel as if you were targeted.

People protesting the reopening of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools are showing a lack of understanding about science, according to Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious disease expert with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

…”Quite frankly, there’s a group of people that have been extremely vocal, and they’ve developed kind of a life of their own and a crusade against opening schools,” Ohl said. “There’s a lot of misinformation, disinformation and ignorance of science, quite frankly, in that group. And that will keep groups from reopening in Forsyth County unless they start thinking about it a little bit more.”

Ohl said the pressure from groups opposed to reopening will likely prevent older students from returning to school in Forsyth County in the current school year.

Ohl did not name any specific groups but he appealed to them to “look at real science.”

It is easy to instantly react and demand that Dr. Ohl present us what the “real science” is or what specifically the “misinformation” might be. Not doing so seems to cast more doubt.

But, after a little time to think and digest, I am not angered by his words or his stance or how he may have presented them.

Why? Because he is not an expert of public schools and there is a stark difference between not wanting to reopen schools and wanting to reopen schools safely. I do not think that Dr. Ohl admitted that qualification. Furthermore, it isn’t just the science that teachers are concerned about – it’s the use of science by those in power to make decisions and the real lack of leadership.

In short, there is a lack of trust in this school district. Furthermore, those teachers who are in that particular group Dr. Ohl seems to be referring to in his comments know well that if science is really applied, then a plan could be constructed that honors the science. The plan this system has in place mutates more than a renegade virus and seems to be predicated more on anecdotal data than anything else. I don’t think that’s looking at real science.

Dr. Ohl comments about our society’s decision to open bars and restaurants before opening schools brings up another point.

In his address, Ohl echoed what many others have said about school closures — that keeping them open should have taken precedence over opening bars, restaurants and fitness centers.

Noting he was making a political comment, Ohl said he was speaking as a scientist, doctor and parent, not as a representative of Wake Forest.

“These are play areas for adults, but we won’t open our schools?” Ohl said. “Shame on us as a society. What’s important?”

Makes one think what Dr. Ohl said when those institutions were opened before schools this past fall. I don’t seem to recall. But it creates another layer in this probe applying real science against desires: Are schools as safe now with “play areas for adults” open than they were before those playgrounds were opened? Teachers think about those things.

Furthermore, we are in a leadership void. Not many districts around that are of our size looking for another superintendent to replace one who only stayed for a little over a year and would not have gone to another district without already being in the job hunting arena for many weeks beforehand.

And many would agree with me in saying that our current Board of Education has a very difficult time working with each other.

So, yes there is science. And there is leadership. And there is trust.

Then there is this:

No two schools in this district of over 80 campuses are the same. We have large schools and small schools. We have schools that are all housed in one building. Some in many buildings. We have old school buildings. We have fairly new buildings. We have elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. There are some schools that are Pre-K through 12. There are alternative-setting schools. There’s even an early college. We have schools that draw students from high tax bases. We have schools that draw from high poverty areas. Schools have different student bodies that serve communities with various socio-economic backgrounds.

Now add environmental factors out of our control like the fact that winter is approaching. There’s no historical data about how the country has done with COVID in conjunction with the flu season. Think of the different landscapes and terrains two schools that are only miles apart could have. Think of the state of the ventilation systems from room to room, building to building, school to school. Think of how many windows a school building has. Think of the width of the hallways. All of them.

No two schools are the same.

It’s hard to see headlines in the local paper or on the news about school closings due to the virus and not think think that could happen in other places.

Gospel Light has a student body less than most every public school in our district.

Name another school that draws from a higher tax base in the district. If it hits there, then what about other schools that do not have as many resources?

Additionally this:

Calvary Nov. 11 letter to parents

And then there is this Oct. 26th report from the Raleigh News & Observer:

We had a candidate for Governor this election cycle this past October in the only debate between the final two candidates who said that there had been no outbreaks in private schools. How many people believed him?

Not only are there the reports of schools and districts closing because of outbreaks, there are studies that show children can spread the virus.

Superspreading predominated, with 5% of infected individuals accounting for 80% of cases. Enhanced transmission risk was apparent among children and young adults, who accounted for one-third of cases. 

India has certainly seen its share of COVID cases.

North Carolina seems to be seeing quite the surge itself.

And it seems that the authority that is the Centers For Disease Control keeps changing its own guidelines specifically reference to schools.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has quietly removed controversial guidance from its website that pushed for schools to reopen in the fall and downplayed the transmission risks of COVID-19 to children and others.

The documents, one of which was reportedly written by political appointees outside of the CDC, stated that children appear to be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to adults and that children are unlikely to be major spreaders of the virus.

The CDC removed two guidance documents from its website in late October with no public announcement.https://f4118d4625bc2c87da397b17ed46c48b.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

When reached for comment, a CDC spokesperson said, “Some of the prior content was outdated and as new scientific information has emerged the site has been updated to reflect current knowledge about COVID-19 and schools.”

I do not envy the position that many medical experts are facing right now. And the toxic dialogue that has stemmed from reaction to Dr. Ohl’s public op-ed has created more division when we so need more unity (especially after this election cycle). Dr. Ohl’s knowledge and work is so needed. He is still a needed leader in my opinion.

But as a teacher in this school system, I want schools to open up safely which is starkly different from the “keep schools closed” mantra that is being so flippantly slung around. I wished Dr. Ohl’s words were not presented as they were because it has temporarily created a more polarizing environment where opposing viewpoints can cherry-pick words and phrases to add to an arsenal.

And I wished that Dr. Ohl could distinguish between what he calls a group on a “crusade against opening schools” from a group who not only has to worry at how policy makers look at “real” science but protect students and teachers from decisions being made by a body that has not earned either the trust or the respect from those who really make schools work.

When A School Board Member Wants To Pit Parents Versus Teachers

Forget that there is a pandemic going on and that an even bigger surge of infection is occurring right now.

Forget that this state has not funded adequately for safe reopenings.

Forget that it is a virus and a horrible national response that is the cause of all of this.

Forget that it seems that school board members in our district seem more interested in getting reelected next year than dealing with science this year.

Forget that this district can’t seem to keep a superintendent.

Forget that a recent rise in COVID infections among elementary school teachers and personnel most definitely has something to do with reopening schools to kindergartners and first graders and that the school system has gone out of its way to absolve itself of any culpability.

Forget that there are people on the board who without any conclusive data but just the hint of distant possibility closed down a school in a matter of hours over possible contamination but wants to reopen schools while an actual certifiable viral pandemic is happening and still growing.

Forget all of that.

But do not forget that when a school board actively asks parents to write other board members to counter the insights and concerns of teachers, it is a gross misuse of power.

Do not forget that this is pitting teachers against parents and stoking division.

Do not forget that this is the epitome of what an elected public servant SHOULD NOT DO.

My School System Needs A Plan. Actually, They All Do.

This was in today’s Winston-Salem Journal:

That particular elementary school within my district literally draws from the highest tax base in the entire county. If the resources that can be compiled by the community attached to this school were not enough to keep it from having to shut down for two weeks after only kindergarten and first grade students returned, then it means that ANY school in the system of the state can be easily affected by COVID.

Notice that it says “after officials learned of five self-reported cases of COVID-19 in individuals associated with the school.”

…after officials learned of five self-reported cases of COVID-19 in individuals associated with the school.

SELF-REPORTED and ASSOCIATED are operative words.

What does it mean to be associated with a school? Student? Parent? Teacher? Teacher Assistant? Administration? Bus Driver? Cafeteria? Janitorial? Volunteer?

And exactly how many “self-reported” cases actually make it to the “Dashboard” set up by the same school board that is using a reopening plan based on “anecdotal” data?

My school system needs a plan based on more than that.

A petition has been set up to ask my school system to “MAKE A PLAN” based on more concrete information and an emphasis on safety and streamlining data.

If you are associated with the WSFCS system or invested in it in any way, consider watching the video and signing the petition.

Please share this petition widely with this link: www.bit.ly/3kB9hff
See and share the video at https://youtu.be/-rJ8yWg6lqw.

Opening Schools Spreads The Virus (Especially Considering What School Bus Drivers Are Saying)

The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System opened its school buildings to younger elementary and EC students in the past couple of weeks.

Data more than proves that the virus is being spread at school. From the Winston-Salem Journal just today:

Here in Forsyth County, the return of students and staff has resulted in multiple positive cases, which led to a high number of teachers in quarantine. According to its COVID-19 dashboard, there are 17 confirmed cases involving students, with 13 of them among high school students. These students are not in school buildings but are practicing sports. That data was posted on the dashboard on Friday afternoon.

There are also 30 confirmed cases involving staff members at the schools, and 127 staff members in quarantine. Of the 127 in quarantine, 86 work in elementary schools. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-14.png

For many of those students who have returned to school, the mode of transportation is a school bus to and from campus. But when school bus drivers are not given enough to protect them from possible exposure to a virus in a school bus during the colder months from asymptomatic individuals, then that indicates just how easy it may be for more transmission to occur in schools.

Again from today’s Winston-Salem Journal:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-15.png

A group of school-bus drivers wants school officials to put more safety measures on their buses to protect them from COVID-19.

Thirty-one drivers met recently at Bolton Park to discuss their concerns about their safety and health amid the coronavirus pandemic. A week earlier, 50 drivers met at Bolton Park to talk about similar issues.

Many drivers said they participated in a Zoom meeting on Nov. 6 with several school administrators, but those officials didn’t adequately answer their questions about the matter.

Students, parents, teachers and school administrators must consider the virus as a serious health risk, said Paul Dunlap of Winston-Salem, a school-bus driver for nearly 19 years.

“I don’t know why some people think that this is a joke,” Dunlap said. “This isn’t a joke.” 

The district has 293 school-bus drivers and 58 openings for drivers, said Brent Campbell, a spokesman for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.

Over 15% of the needed positions for school bus drivers are unfilled. And if what other school systems are showing, that number will increase.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-16.png

We need a better plan.

And we need funding to put that plan into place.

NC Can’t Place All Burdens On Our School Principals. But We Just Might Be Doing That In This Pandemic.

No two schools in the state are the same.

We have large schools and small schools. Many in between.

We have schools that are all housed in one building. Some in many buildings. Many in between.

We have old school buildings. Some have fairly new buildings. Many have a mix.

We have schools in the mountains, in the Piedmont, in the sandhills, and near the ocean.

We have elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. There are some schools that are Pre-K through 12. There are alternative-setting schools. Even some early colleges.

We have schools that draw students from high tax bases. We have schools that draw from high poverty areas.

Schools have different student bodies that serve communities with various socio-economic backgrounds.

No two schools are the same.

Now think of the number of LEAs / districts in the state.

Now think of the number of schools some of these districts have. A couple have well over 100 schools.

List of school districts in North Carolina - Wikipedia

Last week in my school system, a veteran teacher assistant died from COVID-19. The local health department and the local school system made clear in their statements that there was no evidence this dear lady contracted the virus while on the job. While the numbers are still low for educator deaths from COVID-19, in each tragedy, the local system and health department have not admitted that the person could have contracted the virus while on the job.

Having a dashboard of data does not excuse any school system from culpability. But what seems even more egregious is that from almost every teacher I have heard from these past three months the person most responsible for the safe return of students and teachers is the school principal.

Not the school boards that vote on what measures to take and when to send kids into buildings.

Not the superintendents or Central Office people.

The principals.

Now think of all of the schools in state and the different “categories” just mentioned above. Think of environmental factors out of our control.

Think of the different landscapes and terrains two schools that are only miles apart could have.

Think of the state of the ventilation systems from room to room, building to building, school to school.

Think of how many windows a school building has.

Think of the width of the hallways. All of them.

There are over 2500 public schools in North Carolina. And what this state has done is force each principal to enact a safety plan and carry it out based on metrics that seem to change as much as the weather in this state.

No two schools are the same.

There could be 2500 different safety plans.

And who is responsible?

Each local school board, each superintendent, and each lawmaker in Raleigh should make damn sure that every site-based principal has as much support and guidance as possible.

Without the total liability.

Or we may have more than just a teacher shortage next school year.

SlowCOVIDNC – An App That May Help With All Public School Stakeholders

When I look at the COVID-19 Dashboard for my local school system, I honestly do not know how to interpret it or how I am supposed to apply the information to my own situation as a teacher and a parent of a public school child.

I have already received notification that someone at my school has tested positive.

The very next day, my son’s school alerted me and my wife of a positive test on that campus. Our son is in the school building already as he is an EC student with self-contained classes. The notifications are all we know right now.

Furthermore, many teachers who work in schools are self-reporting on social media as they want to be be able to alert others if precautions are needed.

There is an app that may help with reporting and let others know that they might have been exposed to COVID-19, and it keeps information private.

It’s SlowCOVIDNC.

It’s in both the APPLE and GOOGLE APP stores.

Free.

And every parent of a student (and even the students themselves) could use it as well.

Bear This In Mind, Grizzlies Were Not Preying on Public Schools – Remembering Betsy DeVos’s “Grizzly” Defense Of Guns In Schools

First there was The Office.

Jim Halpert: [imitating Dwight] “Fact: bears eat beets. Bears, beets, Battlestar Galactica.” (From “Product Recall episode” in 2007).

bears-beets

Then there was Sarah Palin.

“This mama grizzly … has more reason than ever to protect our young” – Sarah Palin, 2008.

bears-palin

There’s always been the references to Russia as a bear.

Don’t poke bear.” – Commonly referred to when talking about Russia.

bears-dont-poke

Then there’s that great presidential campaign commercial from Ronald Reagan in 1984. Entitled “Bear” it makes its point to a country in the midst of the Cold War.

“There’s a bear in the woods.”

And in 2017, bears were forcing us to put guns in public schools – at least according to Betsy DeVos.

“I will refer back to Sen. Enzi and the school he is talking about in Wyoming. I think probably there, I would imagine there is probably a gun in a school to protect from potential grizzlies.”

Betsy DeVos said those now famous words during her confirmation hearing on January 17th, 2017 in response to questioning about guns on school campuses.

In an exhausting search to find the number of public school students killed by grizzlies or other bears, no number besides ZERO has shown up. On the other hand, the number of students killed with guns rises each year at alarming rates.

And honestly, who stood up for bears and grizzlies in this case of absolute discrimination? In an attempt at a red herring on avoiding the question about guns on school properties, DeVos showed a distinct hatred of mammals that were probably here well before humans were, and in doing so directly offended many icons who are of the family Ursidae.

She certainly said that bears have no place in schools. And that just hurts people like Grizzly Adams in the old grizzly groin.

That meant these American icons could no longer grace the hallways of any school.

Winnie the Pooh would have to go by “Mr. Sanders.”

bears-pooh

Baloo the Bear still needs to stay away from the man villages.

bears-baloo

Yogi Bear? Yep, and Boo-Boo too. At least kids kept their lunches.

bears-yogi

Fozzie Bear? You wacka-wacka betcha.

bears-fozzie

Ted? I know he’s foul-mouthed, but still.

bears-ted

Little Bear? Yep. Even him and his first grade self. Maurice Sendak was rolling in his grave where the wild things are.

bears-little-bear

Paddington Bear? Yep. Gentle Ben? Yep. Even the Coca-Cola Bears who wanted to wish you Happy Holidays?

bears-coca-cola

Even them.

And what about all of the schools that still have “bears,” “grizzlies,” or even “bruins” as mascots? According to mascotdb.com, over 390 high schools, colleges, and professional teams have “bears” as a mascot. Over 100 have “bruins.” Over 100 have “grizzlies.” We’re talking about incredible schools like:

  • University of California at Berkley
  • UCLA
  • Baylor
  • University of Maine
  • Oakland University
  • Brown University
  • Cornell (uses a bear as mascot)
  • Mercer
  • University of Montana.

Even Bowdoin College has the bear as a mascot and it educated Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Franklin Pierce, and Nathaniel Hawthorne at one time!

Think of the Chicago Bears, the Chicago Cubs, the Boston Bruins, and the Memphis Grizzlies.

And as if the line had not already been crossed and defecated upon (because bears do that kind of stuff in the woods),

bears-poop

there were Bad News Bears.

bears-bad-news

They’re literally just cubs! Look at them. And the law says that kids must go to school, but Betsy DeVos said it was alright to have guns in schools to protect against these “grizzlies-to-be.”

Time for Betsy to leave and go hibernate.

After This School Year, NC Won’t Have To Just Worry About Recruiting Teacher Candidates. It Will Need To Worry About Retaining Current Teachers.

That “slide” above is from a 2019 presentation about the Teachers’ and State Employees’ Retirement System (TSERS) Retirement Planning. 2019 was before the current pandemic.

It would be interesting and predictably disheartening to question LEA HR directors about how many calls they are fielding from veteran teachers concerning retirement and early retirement requirements and possibilities.

As a middle-aged veteran teacher, I have been asked if I was planning on retiring soon by people with whom I am barely acquainted.

And as a veteran teacher, I can say that many more older teachers are considering retiring whether it is “early” retirement or full retirement but done before originally planned.

Before this pandemic even started, this state was already facing a teacher candidate shortage – one that has been manufactured with “reforms” that have devalued the profession in ways that have teacher prep programs in our colleges and universities seeing a 30% drop in students. Programs like SB599 and Teach For America and TeachNC have not shown the ability to replenish that pipeline with career educators.

Now a bigger questions looms: What is NC doing to keep from having a massive teacher shortage next year?

Politicizing school reopenings, neglecting teacher input, massive workloads, and an NC General Assembly that won’t even pass a budget but cherry-picks stats to prop up a false narrative all are about to come to a perfect storm.

And the result will be a massive teacher shortage for next year.

Please remember that before the pandemic, most every school system was scratching to make sure there was a teacher in every classroom – DURING AN ECONOMIC BOOM.

So before all of these “education reform” groups start talking about what they will do about “recruiting” good teacher candidates, it might be better for them to ask, “What the hell is NC doing to keep veteran teachers in the classrooms?”

It starts by engaging veteran teachers. Honestly. And then maybe getting out of the way.

If they are not asking that question, then they already have shown where their priorities are.